It almost kills you to do it, but you send Japheth to check on Alena, and run on toward Conrath’s dwelling. You find others there, trying to shout or beg for help amidst their coughs. Conrath himself is kneeling in the door of his dwelling, waving bundles of smoldering herbs and chanting a long slow prayer through his own hacking coughs.
Soon his own coughing subsides, and he looks around him, crinkled eyes deep-set and wild beard wavering in the wind. His eyes focus on you. “Where is your daughter?” he asks. “Why didn’t you go to her?”
You stumble out an answer, but even as you turn to run back to your hut you see Japheth approaching with Alena wrapped in a cloak in his arms. She is sobbing and hacking and reaches out toward you.
You grab her in your arms and hold her close. “I’m sorry, my love, I’m sorry. We’ll make it better, I promise.”
Conrath stands outside his door, facing a growing crowd of coughing, panicked villagers.
He does not seem affected in the slightest. He spreads his hands over the crowd and whispers words of prayer, and you feel your own coughing ease some, and your sickness lessen to a faint dizziness. But Alena, and many of the other small children are still violently hacking up thick green sputum. You see one of Alena’s gobs tinged with red.
“I’m sorry,” says Conrath. “It will take more time and effort to help the little ones. They are so small and this is potent magic. My own powers will not be enough to hold it at bay for long.”
You hold Alena close to you, feel her wracking cough shaking her tiny shoulders, and shake your head. “There must be something more we can do, Conrath. What has happened? How do we stop it?”
Conrath regards you with long silence. “I believe this plague comes from the Gods of the lost city of Ka’abes. Someone has disturbed the ruins, awoken the ancient power. One of us must go, and retrieve the blue jade necklace of the ancient wizard Abatar. With it’s magic, I can protect the whole village.”
All eyes turn to you. You are the one with the most knowledge of the Dwimmermere. You’ve all heard tales of the ruins of Ka’abes, the ancient city of arcane magics that lies at the very heart of the Dwimmermere. If anyone here can make it, it would be you.
It’s true you hunt on the fringes, but you’ve always been careful never to go too deep into the nighted forest, where twisted trees loom on writhing roots above the stinking murk. You’ve never dared to push your way through the curtains of acrid sphel-moss, and you know from legends that the venomous tongues of the Yll lizards, and the bloody claws of the great Shadow-puma bring swift and silent death to anyone who strays too deep.
“But Alena!” you say. “I can’t just leave her.”
“I will care for her,” says Conrath. “You can do no more to help her even if you stay, but if you go there is a chance for us all.”
Your mind spins, searching for arguments. You don’t want to go, but in your heart of hearts, you know what must be done.
“I’ll go,” you say, “but what hope is there? The Dwimmermere quickly kills those who dare its depths. And the city…”
“You must try,” says Conrath. “Otherwise we are all dead.”
He motions around the village, where the walls of green mist swirl. “My power holds it back for now, but it will not last. Already my strength wanes. Move with speed, and yet be wary.”
You’ve never believed much in curses and sorcery, but you cannot deny your daughter’s eyes. You will do anything to save her. After handing her off to the care of Conrath, who does his best to comfort her, you tighten your leather armor, grab your quiver and short sword, and set off, bow in hand.